It’s been a year of high-profile casualties: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder, Prince, Muhammad Ali and now the truth.
This last death notice comes courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries, which has named “post-truth” as its word of the year.
According to the Oxford experts, the truth was smothered to death sometime during this tense and emotional year featuring Britain’s EU exit vote in June and Donald Trump’s improbable victory in the US election earlier this month.
Officially, it means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
Oxford traces the term back to a 1992 essay by Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich about the Iran-Contra scandal and the first Persian Gulf conflict. There was even a book by Ralph Keyes called The Post-Truth Era in 2004.
But 2016 was the year that “post-truth” politics truly came of age, especially in stories related to Brexit and Trump. Editors said use of the term increased around 2000% compared to last year.
Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year is intended to “reflect the passing year in language”, with post-truth following last year’s controversial choice of the “face with tears of joy” emoji.
The publisher’s US and UK dictionary teams sometimes plump for different choices – in 2009 the UK went for “simples” and the US for “unfriend”; in 2006 the UK went for “bovvered” and the US for “carbon-neutral.” This year, teams on both sides of the Atlantic chose the same word.
Contenders included “alt-right”, defined as “an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterised by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content”. It was first used in 2008.
Brexiteer was also in the running, along with non-political terms including coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, and hygge, the Danish concept of cosiness.
“Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time,” predicted Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl.
Post-truth has now been included in OxfordDictionaries.com, and editors will monitor its future use to see if it will be included in future editions of the Oxford English Dictionary.
The rest of the shortlist
adulting: noun, informal
The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.
An ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterised by a rejection of mainstream politics and by the use of online media to disseminate deliberately controversial content.
Brexiteer: noun, informal
A person who is in favour of the UK withdrawing from the European Union.
A computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the internet.
Extreme or irrational fear of clowns.
glass cliff: noun
Used where a woman or member of a minority group ascends to a leadership position in circumstances where the risk of failure is high.
A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or wellbeing (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).
A person of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino or Latina).
woke: adjective, US informal
Originally in African-American usage, alert to injustice in society, especially racism.